Drive My Car: A Japanese Masterpiece of Filmmaking

In 2021, Japan offered the world one of the most beautifully written masterpieces in cinematography.

There is no shortage when it comes to movies that tell a slow-burning story that most would categorize as ‘a slice of life’ type. However, very few succeed in engaging the emotions of the audience for long periods. Drive My Car, coming in at 179 minutes, certainly achieves that ‘something’ that few films ever have.


A Film Lover’s Dream

Ryusuke Hamaguchi has written and directed the kind of film that most people who work in the film industry spend all their lifetimes trying to make. It’s no wonder Drive My Car was nominated for four Oscars at the 2022 Academy Awards. Everything from directing, writing, and acting, to cinematography, is exquisite.

The story follows Yusuke Kafuku, a recently widowed man in emotional turmoil. Through the theatre production of Uncle Vanya, he learns to reconnect with the world while coming to terms with his inner issues. More specifically, it’s his driver, Misaki Watari, who somewhat retroactively helps him a lot. She and he both have a lot of guilt to deal with and you can’t help but deeply feel for them once the story reveals itself as it goes along.

Now, a lot of people may shy away from this film due to its runtime, but if you take a look back at history, some of the greatest films ever approach the three-hour mark. If you love movies you will at the very least appreciate the filmmaking here. It’s a scenic dream. Every shot feels like it has so much thought put behind it. The colors shine through the screen, the environment feels alive, and ultimately you feel like you’re in the car with these characters hanging out.


The Film’s Success

The film was fairly successful at the box office despite the pandemic limitations. After its theatre run the film is now available on HBO Max for anyone interested in watching it.

The main success though came from the way it was critically received. It has an incredible 97% on Rotten Tomatoes which is very hard to get. Critics absolutely adored Drive My Car. Themes of self-acceptance and the way characters deal with grief are complicated. It’s just a testament to truly great filmmaking. Most critics have mentioned how during its runtime the film sort of sneaks up on you emotionally. By the end, you may very well find yourself deeply attached to the story and in tears for good reason.

The way the film showcases everyday life in such a beautiful manner is outstanding. Tunnels have never looked so pretty. The color red has never been more vibrant. A simple drive has never been more calming on screen. Despite the already generally high praise, the cinematography by Hidetoshi Shinomiya is flat-out breathtaking and deserves even more praise if that’s even possible. Try watching it on as big a screen as you can so you can take in all the scenery.

It’s not easy to explore complex emotions in any form of art, which is why it’s so mesmerizing that this film has succeeded to do that so well. The dialogue is often intriguing and mysterious, and other times revealing when it needs to be. The dialogue or lack thereof all builds little by little. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, except a person who has gone through something tragic and is now trying to live on. Whether you relate to him personally or not, you will feel what he is feeling at some point. Certainly, for most people, that point comes to a full-throttle at the end when emotions buried deep down flair up.


To say that Drive My Car is a good movie does a disservice to everyone who worked on it. Everybody seems to have known exactly what their goal was — to bring magic to reality. 2021 was blessed to have had so many masterpieces, and this is definitely one of the best.


Photo: Terry Papoulias/Shutterstock 


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